1In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; 2in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe,a
3who is the refulgence of his glory,
the very imprint of his being,
and who sustains all things by his mighty word.
When he had accomplished purification from sins,
he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high,b
4as far superior to the angels
as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.c
II. The Son Higher than the Angels
Messianic Enthronement.* 5For to which of the angels did God ever say:
“You are my son; this day I have begotten you”?d
“I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me”?
6And again, when he leads* the first-born into the world, he says:
“Let all the angels of God worship him.”e
“He makes his angels winds
and his ministers a fiery flame”;f
“Your throne, O God,* stands forever and ever;
and a righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.g
9You loved justice and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, anointed you
with the oil of gladness above your companions”;
“At the beginning, O Lord, you established the earth,h
and the heavens are the works of your hands.
11They will perish, but you remain;
and they will all grow old like a garment.
12You will roll them up like a cloak,
and like a garment they will be changed.
But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”
13But to which of the angels has he ever said:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies your footstool”?i
14Are they not all ministering spirits sent to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?j
* [1:1–4] The letter opens with an introduction consisting of a reflection on the climax of God’s revelation to the human race in his Son. The divine communication was initiated and maintained during Old Testament times in fragmentary and varied ways through the prophets (Heb 1:1), including Abraham, Moses, and all through whom God spoke. But now in these last days (Heb 1:2) the final age, God’s revelation of his saving purpose is achieved through a son, i.e., one who is Son, whose role is redeemer and mediator of creation. He was made heir of all things through his death and exaltation to glory, yet he existed before he appeared as man; through him God created the universe. Heb 1:3–4, which may be based upon a liturgical hymn, assimilate the Son to the personified Wisdom of the Old Testament as refulgence of God’s glory and imprint of his being (Heb 1:3; cf. Wis 7:26). These same terms are used of the Logos in Philo. The author now turns from the cosmological role of the preexistent Son to the redemptive work of Jesus: he brought about purification from sins and has been exalted to the right hand of God (see Ps 110:1). The once-humiliated and crucified Jesus has been declared God’s Son, and this name shows his superiority to the angels. The reason for the author’s insistence on that superiority is, among other things, that in some Jewish traditions angels were mediators of the old covenant (see Acts 7:53; Gal 3:19). Finally, Jesus’ superiority to the angels emphasizes the superiority of the new covenant to the old because of the heavenly priesthood of Jesus.
* [1:5–14] Jesus’ superiority to the angels is now demonstrated by a series of seven Old Testament texts. Some scholars see in the stages of Jesus’ exaltation an order corresponding to that of enthronement ceremonies in the ancient Near East, especially in Egypt, namely, elevation to divine status (Heb 1:5–6); presentation to the angels and proclamation of everlasting lordship (Heb 1:7–12); enthronement and conferral of royal power (Heb 1:13). The citations from the Psalms in Heb 1:5, 13 were traditionally used of Jesus’ messianic sonship (cf. Acts 13:33) through his resurrection and exaltation (cf. Acts 2:33–35); those in Heb 1:8, 10–12 are concerned with his divine kingship and his creative function. The central quotation in Heb 1:7 serves to contrast the angels with the Son. The author quotes it according to the Septuagint translation, which is quite different in meaning from that of the Hebrew (“You make the winds your messengers, and flaming fire your ministers”). The angels are only sent to serve…those who are to inherit salvation (Heb 1:14).
* [1:6] And again, when he leads: the Greek could also be translated “And when he again leads” in reference to the parousia.
* [1:8–12] O God: the application of the name “God” to the Son derives from the preexistence mentioned in Heb 1:2–3; the psalmist had already used it of the Hebrew king in the court style of the original. See note on Ps 45:6. It is also important for the author’s christology that in Heb 1:10–12 an Old Testament passage addressed to God is redirected to Jesus.
a. [1:2] Is 2:2; Jer 23:20; Ez 38:16; Dn 10:14 / Jn 3:17; Rom 8:3; Gal 4:4 / Prv 8:30; Wis 7:22; Jn 1:3; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16.
b. [1:3] Wis 7:26; 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15 / 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; Mk 16:19; Acts 2:33; 7:55–56; Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; 1 Pt 3:22.
c. [1:4] Eph 1:21; Phil 2:9–11.
e. [1:6] Dt 32:43 LXX; Ps 97:7.